Anchored by Alejandro Valverde and Oscar Pereiro, the Caisse d'Epargne team are heading into 2007 with high hopes. Cyclingnews' Shane Stokes got the details from Directeur Sportif Alfonso Galilea:
The Caisse d'Epargne team headed to last year's Tour with what they thought was one potential podium-getter on their hands, but another rider may yet end up with the final yellow jersey of the race. After Alejandro Valverde crashed out, Oscar Pereiro lost a lot of time, then gained back even more and ended up wearing yellow for several stages. What's more, although he finished on the second step of the podium in Paris, Floyd Landis' positive may yet present the Franco-Spanish team with a race win that they never thought was possible.
As for Valverde, he bounced back from his broken collarbone to finish second in the Vuelta, third in the world road race championships and win the ProTour. The team are now heading into 2007 knowing that they have two big guns for the Tour de France. Importantly, this fact relieves pressure on both of their riders while increasing it on the other contenders. It is, clearly, an ideal situation.
Despite this, though, for now the team are talking about podium places rather than going for the win. Valverde has crashed out of his first two Tours but does have a stage victory in the high mountains in front of Armstrong, no less to show as proof that he has the class to win it sooner or later. He and his team stress that reaching Paris is the priority this season, with 2008 the likely timescale for him to go all out for the win.
According to Caisse d'Epargne directeur sportif Alfonso Galilea, Pereiro showed last year that he is a real contender. "We have to think in the most positive way [about what could happen in July]," he told Cyclingnews at the team training camp on Friday. "Last year was very, very strange. We had the problem with Alejandro due to his crash in the first week, and everything changed at that point. With Oscar, after a very strange day when he lost half an hour, he was able to get back that time. And, after that day, he was in the top ten every day and was very, very good.
Read the entire Caisse d'Epargne feature here.